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Will wind or solar power your next car?

We read this article on Fresh Energy's website and thought it was great in relaying the potential solar energy has in reducing oil and coal use by implementing more efficient and solar powered vehicles. Fresh Energy is a nonprofit organization that is working towards a smooth transition into a clean, efficient, and fair energy system.

Will wind or solar power your next car?

Posted by: Michael Noble on Jan 21, 2011, courtesy of Fresh Energy

What's driving the move to electrify our transport economy? Take your pick of these drivers:

First, as oil pipelines pump in foreign oil to Minnesota, an unseen money pipeline is draining dollars out. Nationally, our oil habit exports a billion dollars a day. Henry Kissinger called our oil dependency the "greatest transfer of wealth in human history." Running cars on electricity is a way to cut the foreign dependency, while retaining that money in Minnesota's economy, creating jobs and wealth here.

Secondly, we do not yet know how to make vast quantities of liquid fuels that without relying on fossil fuels as inputs. The biofuel industry is continually looking for ways to reduce its dependence on coal and oil and gas, but for now, ethanol's two biggest inputs after corn are natural gas and electricity, and coal still represents half of America's electric bill. The good news is that we know how to make electricity without fossil fuels, and we are aggressively moving toward making a lot more of it with wind and solar power.

Third, the car industry's brush with death has made it smarter and better, and electric cars are a big part of its future. Battery technology issues remain the linchpin for rapid penetration of electric cars to a mass market. There are tough challenges with cold weather performance, consumer acceptance, cost, and range anxiety - that "what-if-I-run-out-of-juice" worry. But batteries are getting better fast, as are other components and systems of electric cars. Nissan's CEO Carlos Ghosn predicts that before the end of the decade, a tenth of all cars sales globally will be electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

My view is that will not be a minute too soon, and as we rapidly switch to electricity to run our cars, we should be thinking of electric light rail, electric locomotives for freight, and electric high-speed rail for regional travel.

These all require expensive long-term infrastructure investments, but with peak oil production upon us, policy makers have not nearly given this topic the focus it deserves.

As the economy recovers, and the appetite for oil continues to soar in developing economies, you will soon look  back fondly on $3 gasoline. Like it or not, all the best oil analysts are finally acknowledging the truth:  the era of cheap oil is over, and the oil that's left is difficult and energy-intensive to reach. If the very best oil exploration and production technologies the world has ever seen is offering up deep sea Gulf crude and tar sands from Canada, isn't it time to face reality?

It's time to get off oil.

Right now, solar power on your roof may look like a rich person's luxury, but solar power is already a bargain if you can stop pumping gas at the corner station. Do you share my vision of solar electricity on garages all the way down the alley, and solar panels covering the roof of downtown ramps, and shading parked cars at our office campuses and park-and-rides?

Imagine a world where your car can do this:

During the hot days of summer when electricity demand is at its peak, your car is plugged in at your parking space at work, and you are selling electricity back to the grid at twice what you paid for it.

As you drive your grid-connected car, the transponder on the dash helps you avoid congestion by rerouting you, and it collects the road user fee from your Paypal account, because you no longer pay gasoline taxes.

When your car battery reaches the end of its ten-year warranty, you end the lease as agreed, get a new one at no capital cost,  and your battery is retired to a wind farm. Although it no longer has the oomph to get you on the freeway at 55 mph, it's perfect for storing electricity generated in the wee hours when Sleepy Eye is asleep, and there's little need for the wind energy generated at the edge of town.

This vision of a transportation economy running on clean electricity is not so far off as you imagine. Your next car can run on wind power and solar energy.